Mass extinctions only merit a passing mention on newscasts and in Canadian election campaign

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      I don't want to pick on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation because media outlets around the world mostly do the same thing.

      But yesterday, it was a bit surreal to hear and see the juxtaposition of climate-related stories with other news aired on the Mother Corp.

      On the one hand, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg delivered an impassioned speech at the UN Climate Action Summit talking about entire ecosystems collapsing and how we are in the beginning of a mass extinction.

      She cited an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report saying the world had 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents left to emit on January 1, 2018.

      Under this scenario, there was a 67 percent chance of staying below a 1.5-degrees global temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution, 

      "Today, that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatonnes. How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just business as usual and some technical solutions?" Thunberg asked. "With today's emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than eight-and-a-half years."

      (If anyone still doesn't understand the concept of carbon budgets, I recommend The Burning Question: We Can't Burn Half the World's Oil, Coal and Gas. So How Do We Quit?, by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark.)

      If the average global temperature rises beyond 1.5 C, that increases the likelihood of feedback loops kicking in that could warm the planet well beyond that.

      CBC listeners and viewers also learned some of the latest developments about the upcoming climate strike on Friday (September 27).

      Yet on the other hand, CBC's national radio newscast, hosted by Susan Bonner, flew out from Toronto to do a live broadcast at Lonsdale Quay. This is radio, in which you don't need pictures to tell the story!

      Meanwhile, CBC's national TV news host Adrienne Arsenault flew to Tanzania to interview the president of the Toronto Raptors.

      And political leaders are criss-crossing the country in planes, followed by a troupe of national reporters, to talk about everything from pharmacare to affordable housing.

      According to a paper published in Environmental Research Letters in 2017, one round trip transatlantic flight per person emits about 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.

      The journalists riding the parties' planes are not holding the two major party leaders accountable for the role that they are playing in bringing on more death and destruction around the world.

      Annual downstream emissions from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion alone, which Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer support, will exceed annual emissions from all of British Columbia, according to a report commissioned by the City of Vancouver.

      Yet from the reporters, we get far, far more questions about Trudeau's blackface or Scheer's comments about same-sex marriage in 2005 than mass extinctions and the likely deaths of many millions of people in this century from climate change.

      That will happen as a result of heat waves, extreme weather events caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions, and wars brought on by a scarcity of water.

      It would be a joke worthy of inclusion in a late-night TV comedian's monologue if the issue weren't so deadly serious.

      Trudeau's probably relieved to hear endless queries about the blackface controversy and Scheer likely welcomes questions about same-sex marriage.

      That's because these questions divert attention away from their climate crimes.

      I can just imagine them in the green room before the televised leaders' debate.

      Justin: "I'm so happy those schmucks won't ask about the climate."

      Andrew: "Yeah, if they did that, we would both be toast."

      Justin: "I'll tell you what—if you don't mention SNC-Lavalin in the debate, I won't talk about your climate policies."

      Andrew: "And if you don't talk about all the nutty anti-abortionists running for the Conservatives, I won't talk about your climate policies."

      Justin: "We've got a deal!"

      Watch Greta Thunberg's speech at the Brilliant Minds conference in Stockholm in June.

      Flights of fancy

      Yesterday in New York, Thunberg told world leaders that young people are starting to understand how they're being betrayed.

      "The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you."

      Thunberg is part of a nascent movement of people who refuse to fly to reduce their carbon footprint.

      Older people—including the national media and elected officials at all levels of government—have no compunctions about frequently hopping on airplanes, even if it's to attend yet another climate conference that could be conducted through teleconferencing. 

      National reporters follow party leaders from city to city to listen to boilerplate speeches that could just as easily be covered by these networks' local reporters.

      Most of the election stories concern party leaders scrambling to introduce policies to make it easier for Canadian families. Fair enough. Except that some of these policies seem designed to encourage Canadians to have more children. (Cue the outrage in the comments section below.)

      The previously mentioned study in Environmental Research Letters noted that every child born in the western industrialized world will be responsible, on average, for about 58 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year. Of course, this will never be mentioned by our political reporters. 

      Keep in mind that the wealthy are responsible for a far greater share of carbon emissions than the poor.

      Thunberg recently made this point in a speech in Stockholm but it rarely merits much coverage in our national media.

      I'm going to reproduce part of that earlier speech below:

      "The richest 10 percent of the world's population emits about half of our emissions of our greenhouse gas emissions.

      "The richest one percent emits more than the poorest 50 percent. And this is not about glorifying poverty.

      "This is about the laws of physics and the remaining amount of greenhouse gases we can still emit into the atmosphere to be in line with the Paris Agreement.

      "It is not people in countries like Mozambique, Bangladesh, or Colombia who are the most responsible for this crisis.

      "It is mostly down to people like you here in the audience: entrepreneurs, celebrities, politicians, business leaders—people who have a lot of power.

      "People who consume enormous amounts of stuff, who often fly around the world, sometimes in private jets.

      "Your individual carbon footprints are in some cases the equivalent of whole villages.

      "But I think the worst part is that you are normalizing this extreme lifestyle because people look up to you.

      "You are the role models. You are setting the standards. People aspire to be like you.

      "About 100 companies emits approximately 71 percent of our total emissions of CO2."

      Trudeau and Scheer don't want to address any of this in the election campaign.

      The last thing they'll do is talk about a wealth tax or policies to discourage billionaires from hopping on their private jets to fly to their private islands.

      The politicians and news organizations most certainly won't do anything to cut back on their own massive environmental footprints.

      Scheer, in fact, has introduced a universal tax cut that will put even more money in the pockets of the highest-income earners.

      NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has proposed a wealth tax on those with assets in excess of $20 million. It's been met with great skepticism in the media, even though it's a fairly tepid measure in the face of the climate crisis.

      Credit Elizabeth May of the Greens for talking about the most important issue in this election—climate change—every day. But she's not given nearly as much airtime as the others.

      In the meantime, the election circus continues on the nightly news in city after city after city. It's a fairly depressing spectacle.

      "We will not let you get away with this," Thunberg warned in her speech yesterday in New York. "Right here, right now, is where we draw the line.

      "The world is waking up. And change is coming whether you like it or not."

      She sure got that right.